International donors have pledged 213 million dollars (163 million euros) to help bolster security in Somalia, a key to helping end attacks by pirates off the country's coast.
Somalia has been locked in a cycle of chaos and violence for nearly two decades
Donors made the pledges at a conference in Brussels Thursday at which United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Somalia's president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, appealed for funds to help end two decades of lawlessness in the East African country.
Organizers of the meeting, chaired by Ban and the African Union, had said more than $250 million was needed to improve security in a state which has had no central government since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.
EU officials said the aim was to build up a police force of some 10,000 officers and a security force of 5,000. Support is also sought for the 4,300-strong African Union mission AMISOM.
The AMISOM force - the only security presence backing the government - is well short of the 8,000 soldiers initially planned and is regularly attacked by the Islamist Shebab militia.
"Restoring security and stability in Somalia is vital to the success of the reconciliation effort and the survival of the unity government," Ban told the conference, held under the auspices of the United Nations. "Much remains to be done."
Ban reiterated he had no intention of sending a UN force to Somalia any time soon, saying that the United Nations should take a cautious and incremental approach to sending its own peacekeeping mission, and only "when the security conditions are appropriate."
Target likely to be exceeded
After delegates underlined the challenges facing the war-torn country, organizers said donors had promised funding which was likely to exceed their initial expectations.
"We are on target, we are even a little bit higher because the target was $250 million," said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel. "It seems that we are also above 250 million if you take into account material aid."
"It's really a full success," he added to reporters after the four-hour conference in Brussels. The European Commission, whose president Jose Manuel Barroso also attended, had announced it would pledge at least 60 million euros on the eve of the meeting.
Islamists have battled numerous governments
President Ahmed, who took office in January, made a personal plea for funds at the conference.
"Solving this problem will require a radical solution," said Ahmed. "The restoration of security and peace in Somalia is the basis of any solution to the problems," he said.
Islamist fighters including the hard-line Shebab militia have waged battles against the transitional government, its predecessor cabinet and their allies, vowing to fight until all foreign forces withdraw and Sharia law is imposed.
More than one million people have fled their homes. Fewer than one in three Somalis, whose life expectancy is 46 years, have access to clean water.
General instability and lawlessness
While the conference was not focused on piracy, the high media profile of the growing number of cases of daring raids on freighters on the seas of the Gulf of Aden has become synonymous with Somalia's woes.
NATO's mission off the coast of Somalia is in question
"Piracy is not a water-borne disease. It is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground," Ban said. "Dealing with it requires an integrated strategy that addresses the fundamental issue of lawlessness in Somalia."
Despite international naval missions - including from NATO and the European Union - piracy has mushroomed over the last year, as ransom-hunting Somalis tackle ever-bigger and more distant prizes.
More than 130 merchant ships were attacked in the region last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, the International Maritime Bureau said. A tenfold increase was noted in the first three months of 2009.
"If we only treat the symptoms, piracy at sea, but not its root causes - the decay of the state and poverty - we will fail," Barroso said.
Non-governmental organization Oxfam said the conference was being held at a critical moment for 3.2 million Somalis desperately in need of aid, more than a million of whom have fled their homes to avoid fighting in the last two years.
"The piracy issue that has grabbed international headlines is a symptom of deeper issues that have gone unaddressed ever since the collapse of the national government in 1991," Oxfam's Robert Maletta said in a statement.
Ahmed underlined: "It is our duty to pursue these criminals not only on the high seas but also on terra firma."
Piracy on the increase despite international force
International anti-piracy efforts face a tough mission
Piracy has worsened off Somalia's coast despite the presence of naval forces from more than a dozen countries, including task forces under NATO, EU and US command.
NATO's four-ship mission was due to wind up its operation on Thursday. Diplomats were discussing whether it could be extended and NATO has said it wants tougher rules to allow the detention of captured suspects.
The United States, which is reviewing its Somalia policy, plans to help build Somali security forces and bolster the new government but has made clear it has no desire to "drive" the whole process.